works on paper
One of the delights of my residency at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
in Ireland in the fall was making small works on paper, including monotypes, drawings and egg tempera paintings. I got so caught up in this that I expanded into an empty studio to have room to lay out all my materials and work.
Although I've worked on paper during other residencies--at the Centre d"Art I Natura in Catalonia in '01 and 08, and in 2012 at Cill Rialaig in County Kerry, Ireland--I can't recall ever enjoying it so much for its own sake (as opposed to seeing it as a necessity because of transport issues.) With the luxury of 6 weeks in the studio at Ballinglen, and plenty of time and freedom to experiment, the expressive possibilities of drawing and monotype on paper opened up to me. (To see an album of some of my works on paper, click here
.) I came to love the paper itself for its surface quality, its sensitivity to touch, and the pure beauty of the way it holds line and color. I was also excited by the immediacy of working out ideas, some of which eventually fed into my oil painting ideas after my return to the US (such as in the charcoal drawing below that I did after a walk on the beach.)
I loved making monotypes, either straightforward or altered after printing with colored chalk, and they were also the most influential to me in terms of the paintings I have developed since returning home. Creating these small simple worlds with a few swipes of ink on a squeegee seemed magical. I am continuing this series now in my home studio.
This is one of my altered monotypes, with the addition of pastel and charcoal:
From the first day in the Ballinglen print studio (I later branched out to the other media mentioned) I felt a strong pull toward this work. Beyond the joy of momentary expression, these small pieces seemed to open a clear channel to my deepest ideas and feelings. While at first I questioned their significance--they seemed so quick and easy--I soon realized that quality as a sign of being in the zone of direct expression.
My oil and wax paintings on panel always take a lot of time, layers and layers--they contain a whole history of paint laid down, worked over, refined and edited, and I love that about them. But what happens in the quick drawings and monotypes is spontaneity born of this experience --the language of form, movement, color and contrast that I've been working out for years, reduced to its essence. In the moment of creating the work, there is either an immediate sense of "rightness" to it (despite smears, wrinkles, stray lines or other minor glitches) or it is tossed aside with barely a second thought.
What is it about paper that allows for this quick expression, sureness of gesture, acceptance of imperfection or easy rejection? Is it the tradition of expressive drawing? The lightness of the material itself--its ephemeral nature? Or feeling it is less precious than work on canvas or panel (though expensive printmaking papers can rival the cost of a low end panel)? This elusive liberating vibe, sensed intuitively, is hard to pin down.
I do notice that using different papers elicits different and unique responses; the paper itself plays a role in the work in a way that painting panels for me, do not. I am just beginning to explore the range of beautiful papers available--enjoying the sensuous quality to the way different papers absorb printing ink or allow for the delicate smear of charcoal. There is a constant awareness of the surface as it interacts with the media applied to it.
Experience with one type of paper that crosses over from panel-like to paper-like surface illustrates this. Called multimedia artboard,
it is a paper impregnated with a resin that allows its use with oils, as well as with other media. The surface has a slight texture but no real "give" to it as with softer papers--it's strong and hard to the touch. I notice that I work with this material differently depending on whether I plan to mount it on panel in the end, which is the case when I travel and paint on it using oil and wax--it is easy to transport, so it's perfect for residency painting. When I come home I adhere the multimedia artboard to a painting panel. Because this is my intention all along, I don't think of these paintings as works on paper; I treat them throughout the process as I do any other oil painting, with layering, scraping, and solvent marks--they are intensively layered and worked (and the surface holds up beautifully to this process.) The substrate does not play a big role interacting with the media, though, since once the first few layers are down the surface is buried. In this case, it is simply convenient to have this light, portable product that I can carry in my suitcase.
But the same multimedia artboard also works with media such as charcoal and water and egg tempera, and I used it in my works on paper at Ballinglen. With these media, I work quickly and spontaneously, and respond to the artboard as paper. It accepts all mixed media well, and the actual surface shows through. The bright white color plays a role in the value distribution of the work. Often I tape the edges so that there is a clean border, which also emphasizes the role of the paper itself in the work. This is one of my egg tempera paintings on multimedia artboard from Ballinglen:
By the way, there are two other papers on the market that I know of that are suitable for oil painting without the necessity of priming. One is Arches Oil Paper
. This paper is soft and absorbent, and just slightly off-white. In this case the surface quality of the product influences my response when I work on it in any medium, including oil/wax. I maintain the sense that this is a work on paper, characterized by quickness and spontaneity, so that I use far fewer layers and simpler surfaces than I require in my works on panel. This opens up new possibilities for work in oils that can be more direct than my usual work. Here is one such painting from my time at Ballinglen:
The other paper I know of that can be used without a primer is TerraSkin
, made by MitzArt in Canada. Made of a most unusual material--stone!--this product is extremely tough, with a slick surface. I asked the manufacturer if it would be suitable for oil and cold wax, and between the two of us (with some experimentation on my part) we determined that it is. (Yupo--a somewhat similar synthetic surface--is also used by some artists for oil painting, but I have not tried it myself nor determined its suitability.) TerraSkin provides a lovely surface for spontaneous mark making, and again while using it with oils, I find that the painting proceeds quickly and the paper surface plays a role.
Working on paper always leads to questions about presentation and framing. For the most part, I do not frame anything I intend to sell--instead I preserve and protect the work in a loose-leaf portfolio/binder or in inexpensive presentation mats in archival plastic sleeves. I tend to use standard sizes of paper for my somewhat larger works on paper (such as 14"x11") that could be framed in a standard, off the shelf (such as a 20"x16") frame, which makes it potentially easier for the purchaser. In exhibiting works on paper, I have used the method pictured below (the work is on multimedia artboard, from my exhibition this past summer at the Pratt Museum in Homer, AK.) Small rare earth magnets hold the work in place by attaching to drywall screws set into the wall beneath.